A hymn to the Theotokos
O protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame, O mediation unto the Creator unfailing, disdain not the suppliant voices of sinners; but be quick, O good one, to help us who in faith cry unto thee; hasten to intercession and speed thou to make supplication, thou who dost ever protect, O Theotokos, them that honour thee. (from the post Communion prayers, trans. from Prayer Book, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, p. 385)
Development of Personhood in Christ as a Calling to Pray for the World(1)
This is one of the subjects that Archimandrite Sophrony wanted his spiritual children to elucidate. He has said that personhood is the gift of God whereby one comes into possession of their being. One of his monks illustrated this by using the example of repentance for one’s sins and the resulting contrition of heart. This contrition unites the mind with the heart, and one of its consequences is a state of sobriety and through this we begin to come into possession of our being, the inner man, the hidden man of the heart. Sobriety born of contrition brings us in control of ourselves, and makes us masters of ourselves. In this state of sobriety the mind is united with the heart which was its natural place before the Fall. This is the beginning of the process of development of personhood. The final fruit of this is to come into complete possession of our being.(2) When we are thus in possession of our being, we become the person we truly are, the person whom God created us to be. We become true, authentic, genuine and proper human beings. We are spontaneous and not pretentious; true to ourselves, true to the particular person that God made each of us to be. On the other hand, to the degree that we are influenced by passions and thoughts contrary to God, we are false. However, in referring to the process of developing our person in Christ, Archimandrite Sophrony writes of a state where man “transcends the boundaries of his own individuality and enters into a new form of being – personal being in the likeness of Christ.” In his book, His Life Is Mine, in the chapter entitled, “The Prayer of Gethsemane”, he writes of this, and he implies that this development of personhood in Christ makes one a sharer in the Gethsemane prayer of Christ. It is here that Archimandrite Sophrony expresses the belief that this prayer was a prayer of intercession for the salvation of the fallen race of Adam, an outpouring of Divine love. So then, he who becomes Christ-like, who develops his person in Christ, participates in His divine love and likewise in His suffering for fallen Adam. Since we live in a fallen world, a world which awaits judgment, love in a reason-endowed creature will inevitably manifest itself as a condition of intercession. Thus this development of personhood in Christ becomes a calling to pray for the world. In such prayer one can become foremost a vessel of the Holy Spirit yet without losing his particular identity. This is the subject we shall continue to develop below.
In speaking of the development of personhood in Christ we must begin with the Holy Trinity because in the beginning God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. Thus we must speak first about the Trinity collectively and then particularly about our Lord Jesus Christ. The Trinity is an ontological community of being: three Persons in one essence, consubstantial with one another. There is a hierarchy within the Trinity: God the Father exists as the source of all, God the Son exists as the only-begotten Son and Word of God in the bosom of the Father, and the Holy Spirit exists as the Giver of Life Who proceeds from the Person of the Father. The Trinity is a perfect unity, existing in perfect harmony, dispensing and upholding all creation in utter concord, in perfect union of will, and in perfect submission and agreement to each other in perfect love. “God is love”, as St. John the Theologian says; God, then, is a community of being united in love, existing in love, affecting all things in love. The condition of being and the underlying energy or operation of God is love. Thus the prototype for mankind as a race living in relationship with each other is, in fact, the Trinity. Therefore, in a collective sense, man as the image and likeness of God in Trinity is an ontological community of being. Man is a community of being united in love, created to exist in love. Man is meant to accomplish and fulfill everything he does in love.
Now, in considering each man as an individual, as a distinct entity, we must look to our Lord Jesus Christ as the prototype. Who is Jesus the Christ? Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity . He is the Son of God: of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, begotten of the Father. His “begotteness” is, always has been, and always will be. He is God by nature and, and He took upon Himself what He was not: man’s human nature, thus making it divine. He is one Person with two natures: Divine and human. Christ is our prototype: the prototype of the perfect man, the prototype of the new man. He is the God-man Who brings this union into effect through the Incarnation. Through His Incarnation God the Son puts man back on the pathway to the attainment of the likeness of God, and He even brings the nature of man above and beyond its original capacity by uniting it to His divine nature. By taking complete human nature from one of our race—the all-pure Virgin Mary—and being made truly flesh, Christ makes us partakers of the divine nature for “He becomes mortal man and still remains God.”(3) Furthermore, this participation in the divine nature which He gives us is not external but something internal and organic.(4)
to be continued…
1 This is a revision of an article first published in the “St. Tikhon’s Seminary Theological Journal”, Vol. 2, 1994
2 According to the same aforementioned monk of Archmandrite Sophrony’s community the final end of this development is deification. Therefore we could say that Archimandrite Sophrony is giving to us a fresh definition of deification: the complete development of personhood in Christ.
3 See first canon of the Nativity of our Lord ode one tropar two and ode three tropar two. (The Festal Menaion pgs. 269,271)
4 The term “organic” in reference to this union of God with man is not usually employed but it has been used by the Elder of Vatopedi Monastery Joseph the Younger, for example: “True believers ‘undergo’ this communion with God and experience the energies of divine influences organically”. (Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Joseph pg. 204)